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Maintaining Used Cars

Many used cars available today give new meaning to the old used-car come-on, "Like New." A lot of them really are like new. Whether you buy almost-new or truly-used, it is important to take good care of the vehicle. Once it's yours, the key word is maintenance.

Doing Maintenance

What is used car maintenance? It is keeping your car working well and looking good. Maintenance is the most important word in a car owner's vocabulary. It will be a very interesting routine task when you become accustomed with cleaning and maintaining your vehicle daily.

Used cars, as you might suspect, require more attention than new cars. You have a number of tasks to keep that vehicle in good condition. Use a small notebook that will fit in the glovebox or buy an auto maintenance log at the store and customize it. Keep a record of all maintenance done on the vehicle -- the date the oil is changed, when the wiper blades were replaced, the date the brakes get checked. This notebook should also contain a record of fuel economy. Fuel usage is like a thermometer. If your car starts using more gas than normal, it could be a signal something isn't quite right. Mention this fluctuation to your service person. This records will make your used car stay new for long years. 


Have your won tire tester. Check air pressures in all four tires. Because this simple tire check makess best possible steering and handling, equal wear on the tires, and good fuel consumption. Whenever you put gas in a stations, check the tire pressure. After the car has been driven for awhile, the tires heat up and the air expands so the reading isn't accurate. Because outside temperatures affect tire pressure, it is important that this simple maintenance check be done regularly. Be sure to take a minute or two at least once a month to do a tire check. The recommended pressure for your car's tires is in the vehicle's owner's manual. No manual? Look on the tire's sidewall. You might also find the information in the glove compartment or on the driver's door. Even if your tires are warranted, it is necessary to perform regular maintenance to keep the tires functioning properly and to ensure the validity of the warranty.

Windshield Wipers

Another important maintenance is keeping an eye on the windshield wipers. This may sound trivial, but being caught in a sudden downpour with worn, cracked or dirty wiper blades will quickly illustrate the importance of this simple maintenance check. A brief inspection of the wiper blades while cleaning off the windows will do it. Replace the blades once a year. If blades are purchased a parts supply store, ask for advice on how to put them on. And don't forget to keep the windshield wiper fluid full. Dirty windows are a safety hazard.


Having your cars clean not only make you driving happier or show your sense of your cleanliness, it also pay enormous dividends when you sell or trade in your car. Vacuum the seats and carpets frequently with a good home vacuum or a coin-operated machine at the car wash. Other parts of the interior requiring care include the dashboard, door panels and ceiling. 

For a bright and shiny exterior washing your car regularly. Use a non-detergent soap made especially for waxed surfaces or a liquid soap used for dishwashing by hand. Start washing your car from the top and work down. The wheels and tires should be washed last. Spray water up inside the wheel wells and under the rocker panels. Salt and debris can get trapped there and cause rust. 

Head Lamps, Tail Lights, Brake Lights And Signals

One of the most often over-looked simple maintenance tasks is checking that all the lights are in working order. Other drivers might remind you that a headlight is out or a turn signal doesn't work with gestures like flashing bright lights or angry hand signals. A traffic officer might also offer a reminder with a citation. The law requires that all vehicle operating lights work properly. But such unpleasantness can be prevented. Simply enlist the help of a friend or neighbor to check head lamps, tail lights, brake lights and signals as you sit in the car operating them. If a bulb is out and you can't, or don't want to, replace it yourself, a repair person will do it for very little cost.

Checking Fluids

It is not only gas that keeps a vehicle running, it's brake, transmission and power-steering fluid, water in the radiator and coolant. Checking these fluid levels is an essential part of good car care. The owner's manual will describe everything you need to know about checking these fluids, such as where the dip sticks are that determine the level of the fluids and what kind of fluids to use if they are low. For the technically-phobic, from time to time it's worth the higher price of gas at the full service bay to have the fluids checked. All fluid levels, especially the oil, need to be checked about once a week. Don't forget to change the oil about every 3000 miles. The oil change should include replacement of the oil filter to assure smooth running of the vehicle. Clean oil ensures longer wear of the internal parts of the engine. Lubrication of the chassis helps prevents costly replacement on front-end parts. A vehicle needs lubrication of the chassis at least twice a year, regardless of weather conditions.

Maintenance Checks and Tune-Ups

A good relationship with a mechanic or service person is critical to the piece of mind of any car owner. For the used-car owner it is even more important. Ask friends at work and elsewhere who they recommend. Visit a couple shops to see how you are treated. This trip will also show how clean the place is, how busy they are and other useful information. If there's a classic car poster hanging on the wall instead of a "girlie" calendar, it's a good sign the service person is either a serious car guy or a woman.

Most auto service shops offer specials on tune-ups and other service work. These specials are usually advertised in flyers stuck in the mailbox and are a good reason to sort though that junk mail. Try one of the maintenance tune-up specials or a brake service check. If the service people are courteous and do what you consider to be a good job, go back again for other routine maintenance.

Be sure the maintenance special you buy includes the basics: new spark plugs, idle and time set (if necessary), charging system and battery check, Positive Crankcase Valve (PCV) and ignition system inspections, and air-filter replacement. Many shops will test drive the vehicle themselves as part of this check-up. Ask about that service. A complete maintenance tune-up needs to be done every 20,000 miles, more often (at least once a year) if most driving is stop-and-go in the city. This tune-up should include the above routine inspections plus checking the hoses, fan belts, brakes, wheel bearings and shock absorbers. Have the tires rotated at this time also.

Air Conditioning

Remember to keep a close check on the air-conditioning system. All cars built after the 1995 model year use environmentally-friendly refrigerants because freon production was stopped at about that time. If the used car you purchase was built in the early 90s or before and requires freon to operate the air conditioning, you can still buy the product. It's just very expensive. Depending on the car's make and model, it may be possible to retrofit the current air-conditioning system to use a more environmentally-acceptable refrigerant. Federal law requires technicians who work on auto air conditioners to be certified by an Environmental Protection Agency-approved training program. They must also be certified in the proper use of freon recovery and recycling. 


Living with a car is essential for most of us today for both work and play. Living happily with a car requires playing by some rules -- do simple maintenance checks yourself, keep the car clean, keep good records, have regular tune-ups, and get the car serviced periodically. Do-it-yourself or let-somebody-else-do it. But do it -- because it is important to the reliability and longevity of the vehicle, its long-term value, and your safety.

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